What Is The Fairness Doctrine? — Round 1: FCC’s ‘Media Diversity’ Panel Chosen to Analyze Balance on Radio Airwaves Have No Conservatives on Committee… Where’s the Diversity? — Forget the Fairness Doctrine — Sen Grassley’s Letter to FCC —  New FCC ‘Chief Diversity Officer’ Co-Wrote Liberal Group’s ‘Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio’ — Prologue to a Farce (Communication and Democracy in America)


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The Emperor’s New Clothes

Everyone can say what’s going on
They laugh ‘cos they know they’re untouchable
Not because what I said was wrong
Whatever it may bring
I will have my own policies
I will sleep with a clear
conscience
I will sleep in peace
Maybe it sounds mean
But I reallly don’t think so
You asked for the truth and I told you
Through their own words
They will be exposed
They’ve got a severe case of
The emperor’s new clothes.

— Sinead O’connor


What Is The Fairness Doctrine?

Wiki:  The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was (in the Commission’s view) honest, equitable and balanced.

The Fairness Doctrine should not be confused with the Equal Time rule. The Fairness Doctrine deals with discussion of controversial issues, while the Equal Time rule deals only with political candidates.

In 1969, the United States Supreme Court upheld the Commission’s general right to enforce the Fairness Doctrine where channels were limited, but the courts have not, in general, ruled that the FCC is obliged to do so. In 1987, the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine, prompting some to urge its reintroduction through either Commission policy or Congressional legislation.

According to Steve Rendall of the media criticism group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting,

The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented.

The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in the U.S. in 1949. The doctrine remained a matter of general policy and was applied on a case-by-case basis until 1967, when certain provisions of the doctrine were incorporated into FCC regulations.

In 1974 the Federal Communications Commission asserted that the United States Congress had delegated it the power to mandate a system of “access, either free or paid, for person or groups wishing to express a viewpoint on a controversial public issue…” but that it had not yet exercised that power because licensed broadcasters had “voluntarily” complied with the “spirit” of the doctrine. It warned that:

Should future experience indicate that the doctrine [of 'voluntary compliance'] is inadequate, either in its expectations or in its results, the Commission will have the opportunity—and the responsibility—for such further reassessment and action as would be mandated.

Under FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler, a communications attorney who had served on Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign staff in 1976 and 1980, the commission began to repeal parts of the Fairness Doctrine, announcing in 1985 that the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

On February 16, 2009, Fowler told conservative radio talk-show host Mark Levin that his work toward revoking the Fairness Doctrine under the Reagan Administration had been a matter of principle (his belief that the Doctrine impinged upon the First Amendment), not partisanship. Fowler described the White House staff raising concerns, at a time before the prominence of conservative talk radio and during the preeminence of the Big Three television networks and PBS in political discourse, that repealing the policy would be politically unwise. He described the staff’s position as saying to Reagan:

The only thing that really protects you from the savageness of the three networks — every day they would savage Ronald Reagan — is the Fairness Doctrine, and Fowler is proposing to repeal it!
  1. Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC also at 395 U.S. 367 (1969) (Excerpt from Majority Opinion, III A; Senate report cited in footnote 26). Justice William O. Douglas did not participate in the decision, but there were no concurring or dissenting opinions.
  2. Clark, Drew (20 October 2004) “How Fair Is Sinclair’s Doctrine?” Slate
  3. Rendall, Steve (2005-02-12). “The Fairness Doctrine: How We Lost it, and Why We Need it Back” (in English). Common Dreams (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting). http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0212-03.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-13.
  4. Report on Editorializing by Broadcast Licensees, 13 F.C.C. 1246 [1949])
  5. Donald P. Mullally, “The Fairness Doctrine: Benefits and Costs”, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Winter, 1969-1970), p. 577
  6. In the Matter of THE HANDLING OF PUBLIC ISSUES UNDER THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST STANDARDS OF THE COMMUNICATIONS ACT, 48 F.C.C.2d 1 (F.C.C. 1974)
  7. Tom Joyce: “His call for a reply set up historic broadcast ruling; Fred J. Cook, whose book was attacked on Red Lion radio station WGCB in 1964, died recently at age 92.” York Daily Record (Pennsylvania), May 6, 2003, retrieved on August 17, 2008
  8. The quotation is from Section III C of Red Lion v. FCC 395 U.S. 367 (1969). Justice Brennan’s opinion was joined by Justices Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell and Sandra Day O’Connor. Dissenting opinions were written or joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices William Rehnquist, Byron White and John Paul Stevens
  9. The Mark Levin Show, February 16, 2009 (a 26-Megabyte MP3 file), from about 17 minutes 15 seconds into the broadcast to 25 min. 45 sec.

Emperor_Clothes_01An emperor of a prosperous city who cares more about clothes than military pursuits or entertainment hires two swindlers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they tell him, is invisible to anyone who was either stupid or unfit for his position. The Emperor cannot see the (non-existent) cloth, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime. The Emperor then goes on a procession through the capital showing off his new “clothes”. During the course of the procession, a small child cries out, “But he has nothing on!” The crowd realizes the child is telling the truth. The Emperor, however, holds his head high and continues the procession.


Frugal Café Blog Zone

Where it’s chic to be cheap… Conservative social & political commentary, with frugality mixed in

Radio Censorship, Round 1: FCC’s ‘Media Diversity’ Panel Chosen to Analyze Balance on Radio Airwaves Have No Conservatives on Committee… Where’s the Diversity?

By Vicki McClure Davidson, May 5, 2009

UPDATE, JUNE 18, 2009: This just in from Brian Jennings, Big Hollywood: Incoming FCC Chairman: No Censorship. To quote Jennings in his article, “Be vigilant for free speech and let’s make sure Julius Genachowski is true to his word. And, watch out for the new wave of political correctness that has swept the world and is now taking stronger hold in America – legislation against hate speech. Who decides what is hateful? The National Hispanic Media Coalition has asked the FCC to investigate alleged hate speech by John and Ken of KFI, Los Angeles, Lou Dobbs of CNN, and Michael Savage of the Talk Radio Network. Beware of further assaults on broadcast speech rights.”

~~~~~

Original post, dated May 4, 2009, begins here:

Talk about unmitigated hypocrisy and violation of the First Amendment.

Extremist liberals (and even not-so-extreme liberals) are criticizing US radio ownership because white, conservative men own the stations and air only white, conservative males that parrot their views (which isn’t true). They demand balance and diversity by mandate, so have, in the Age of Obama, constructed a review panel that has absolutely no conservative, free market representation. The panel’s “diversity” is based on skin color, or so it seems, and not on the diversity of ideas. What a bloody travesty.

This panel discussion to instigate censorship of free speech on the radio is also a travesty, a dog-and-pony show of discussing “fairness” much like a third-world banana republic dictatorship will do to go through the motions to placate the public and to camouflage the desired end result.

The “Fairness Doctrine” that Ronald Reagan abolished has been retooled and renamed “Media Diversity.” It is an affirmative-action scam, hoping to obscure its real intent. Minorities are not prevented from purchasing radio stations, nor are women, nor is any citizen.

There is no oppression. There is no bigotry. It’s all been contrived by the Obama administration…




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Freedom of speech and free enterprise under attack again.

Review of Mark Lloyd by drifter51 | August 15, 2009

I have run out of fingers.  Lets see…..Mark Lloyd’s recent appointment as “Chief Diversity Officer” at the FCC makes him something like the 33rd “Czar” in Barack Obama’s administration.  I’ve lost count.  These so-called “czars” are conveniently unelected and therefore largely unaccountable to Congress or to the American people.  Mark Lloyd comes to his new position with some very definite ideas about how the radio business should be regulated.  Like so many other people in the Obama administration he loathes the free market and seeks to remake the radio industry.  There can be little doubt about his intentions.  Just read the attached report  he wrote in 2007 for the “Center For American Progess”. It is chilling indeed!.

Make no mistake about it.  If Mark Lloyd has his way the Federal government will have an awful lot to say about the types of programming you will be able to hear on the radio.  That thought makes me cringe.  Quoting from “Forget The Fairness Doctrine” Lloyd calls for ownership rules that “we think will create greater local diversity of programming, news, and commentary.” Keep in mind that the American taxpayer is already underwriting such diversity by appropriating hundreds of millions of dollars each year to subsidize the clearly left-wing programming on National Public Radio.

Mr. Lloyd favors tax policies designed to “encourage” broadcasters to air the kinds of programming that he approves of.   Mr. Lloyd goes on to say that  “Only the most misinformed still believe that radio group owners such as Citadel Broadcasting Corp., which refuses to air popular progressive hosts like Ed Shultz, are only concerned about the bottom line.” This is pure hogwash Mr. Lloyd!   It is all about the bottom line.  If Ed Shultz or Randi Rhodes could attract a decent audience then they would be on the air in a lot more cities than they are.  The simple fact of the matter is that for decades the American people have clearly preferred conservative talk radio by an overwhelming margin.

This is largely true on both the national and local levels.  Consider the liberal talk network “Air America” that featured Al Franken and Randi Rhodes among others. The ratings were dismal and the network quickly fell into bankruptcy.  They even stiffed their flagship radio station WLIB in New York City of a substantial amount of money.  The majority of people simply did not find that brand of talk to be very compelling.   Which brings us back to you Mr. Lloyd.  What is your real motivation in trying to stifle conservative talk radio?   The answer is quite obvious.  Your proposed assault on the radio industry is a backhanded attempt to stifle any criticism of the people and the policies that you support.  The American people will not stand for it!

Now if Mark Lloyd’s true motivation was to achieve some sort of “fairness” and “ideological balance” then his proposed rules might also apply to cable news where liberals tend to rule the day.  But as you might expect they do not.  While I have no use for the likes of Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews or even Lou Dobbs,  I would never advocate silencing these voices.  I say let the marketplace determine the winners and losers as it always has. It seems to me that bureaucrats like Mark Lloyd and others should have better things to do with their valuable time than to conspire against freedom of  speech and free enterprise.     A very bad idea!


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Sen Grassley’s Letter to FCC Chair- Questions Media Should Ask About FCC ‘Chief Diversity Officer’

By Seton Motley, August 17, 2009

Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has publicly released a letter he penned to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski regarding the July 29th announced appointment of new FCC Associate General Counsel and Chief Diversity Officer Mark Lloyd.

In the press release accompanying the missive, the Senator said he was “concerned with the appointment due to Lloyd’s writings on political talk radio and the Fairness Doctrine.”

As the Senator’s letter goes on to detail, there is very much more to fear from Lloyd than merely his views on the so-called “Fairness” Doctrine.  Lloyd’s intentions on the enforcement of the FCC regulations known as “media diversity” and “localism” are no picnic either.

In advance of then-nominee Genachowski’s June 16 Senate Commerce Committee confirmation hearing, my boss – Media Research Center President Brent Bozell – drafted and publicly released a list of questions that Genachowski should have been asked.

Sadly, with the exception of the most pro forma of queries about the mis-named “Fairness” Doctrine, he was not.

Genachowski therefore remains a blank slate on his “media diversity” and “localism” enforcement intentions.  We are thusly left to think the worst about his appointment of Chief Diversity Officer Lloyd. The Chairman has to have read Lloyd’s writings; his appointing him must mean Genachowski at least tacitly accepts Lloyd’s views on the subjects at hand.

Which is frightening.

We have repeatedly explained that Lloyd is virulently anti-conservative, anti-capitalist, almost myopically racially fixated and exuberantly pro-regulation.

Lloyd has in his past written a road map for how liberal activists should use the FCC to threaten the licenses of stations with whom they do not agree politically.  He seeks to impose an annual FCC license fee equal to each station’s annual gross operating budget, with the money going to public broadcasting stations with whom the private stations then have to compete.

That he now works at the FCC where he can put his ridiculous policy proposals into place is more than a little disconcerting.

There is much more to be mined from the mind and pen of this man.  We are currently poring over his many writings; there will be much more to come from us.

But from all we have thus far learned it appears that the First Amendment and free speech are either completely foreign or irrelevent to him.

Senator Grassley’s letter:

Dear Chairman Genachowski,

On July 29, 2009, you announced the appointment of Mark Lloyd as Associate General Counsel and Chief Diversity Officer for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). I write today to express my concerns with this appointment and ask for you to clarify and reaffirm statements you made to me in a personal meeting prior to your confirmation related to the Fairness Doctrine and efforts to diversify broadcast media.

On April 22, 2009, before your confirmation by the U.S. Senate for your position as Chairman of the FCC, you came to my office and told me that you did not support an effort to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. I took you at your word that, if confirmed, the policies that you promoted at the FCC would not include any policy or regulatory shifts that seek to reintroduce the long abandoned Fairness Doctrine. However, I have serious reservations that you may be moving away from these statements you made to me regarding the Fairness Doctrine given the appointment of Mr. Lloyd to a position within the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) at the FCC. Please allow me to elaborate.

My concerns relate to Mr. Lloyd’s participation in scholarly writings on political talk radio, the Fairness Doctrine, and efforts to bring greater diversity to talk radio. Prior to joining the FCC, Mr. Lloyd served as a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), in addition to positions as a professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. In his capacity as a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, he coauthored a paper titled, “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio.”

This paper argued that radio programming was currently “imbalanced” and that there are “serious questions about whether the companies licensed to broadcast over the public airwaves are serving the listening needs of all Americans.” Mr. Lloyd’s paper suggests three options to remedy the “imbalance” in political talk radio, including (1) restoring caps on commercial radio station ownership, (2) ensure greater accountability in licensing, and (3) require owners who fail to enforce public interest ownership obligations to pay a fee. While these remedies seem innocuous on their face, hidden within the paper are some stark revelations.

First, Mr. Lloyd’s paper suggests that the Fairness Doctrine was “never formally repealed.” Instead, Mr. Lloyd argues that the FCC merely announced “it would no longer enforce certain

regulations under the umbrella of the Fairness Doctrine.” The paper continues by stating that while the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the FCC decision, the Supreme Court has “never overruled the cases that authorized the FCC’s enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine…thus it technically would not be considered repealed.”

Second, the paper suggests that the FCC revise the licensing process for radio broadcasters. Specifically, it suggests that licenses should not be permitted for longer than three years, that they be subject to challenges in the decision to renew their licenses, and that they submit to strict documentation and regulatory requirements.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the paper suggests that commercial radio owners be subjected to new regulatory requirements enforcing public interest obligations and if they fail to meet these standards, subjecting them to fees and taxes in order to compel compliance. The paper suggests that such a fee or fine structure could raise between $100 million to $250 million in new revenue, but would not “overly burden commercial radio broadcasters.”

Taken together, these statements represent a view that the FCC needs to expand its regulatory arm further into the commercial radio market. However, it would be unfair for me to say that Mr. Lloyd has specifically advocated for a return to the Fairness Doctrine. Instead, he has argued that the Fairness Doctrine is unnecessary if other regulatory reforms to commercial radio are implemented.

Specifically, in discussing the CAP paper “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio,” Mr. Lloyd authored an internet article published on CAP’s website entitled, “Forget the Fairness Doctrine.” In that piece, Mr. Lloyd stated, “we call for ownership rules that we think will create greater local diversity…we call for more localism by putting teeth into the licensing rules. But we do not call for a return to the Fairness Doctrine.”

Simply put, I strongly disagree with Mr. Lloyd. I do not believe that more regulation, more taxes or fines, or increased government intervention in the commercial radio market will serve the public interest or further the goals of diversifying the marketplace. I am concerned that despite his statements that the Fairness Doctrine is unnecessary, Mr. Lloyd supports a backdoor method of furthering the goals of the Fairness Doctrine by other means.

Accordingly, I ask that you clarify and reaffirm your commitment to me to oppose any reincarnation of the Fairness Doctrine. Further, I ask you to affirmatively state that you will not pursue an agenda that includes any new restrictions, fines, fees, or licensing requirements on commercial radio that would effectively create a backdoor Fairness Doctrine. I appreciate your prompt reply regarding this important matter.

Sincerely,
Chuck Grassley
United States Senator

—————

New FCC ‘Chief Diversity Officer’ Co-Wrote Liberal Group’s ‘Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio’

By Seton Motley, August 6, 2009

UPDATE: Nationally syndicated radio talk show host Mark Levin read this piece in nearly its entirety last night.  His on-air stylings can be found here.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced a new “Chief Diversity Officer,” communications attorney Mark Lloyd.

But Doctor of Jurisprudence Lloyd is far more than merely a communications attorney.  He was at one time a Senior Fellow at the uber-liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), for whom he co-wrote a June 2007 report entitled “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio.”

Which rails against the fact that the American people overwhelmingly prefer to listen to conservative (and Christian) talk radio rather than the liberal alternative, and suggests ways the federal government can remedy this free-market created “problem.”

  • Restore local and national caps on the ownership of commercial radio stations.
  • Ensure greater local accountability over radio licensing.
  • Require commercial owners who fail to abide by enforceable public interest obligations to pay a fee to support public broadcasting.

These last two get perilously close to the use of “localism” to silence conservative (and Christian) radio stations, about which we have been warning for quite some time.

“Localism” is a nebulous FCC regulatory requirement that radio stations must meet to get and keep their broadcast licenses.  How it is defined and enforced is wide open to the interpretation of whomever is doing the enforcing.  It can mean something benign like airing local public service announcements, or it can be used as a weapon by activists to punish, harangue and ultimately shut down stations they don’t like.

In a follow-up essay to the CAP report entitled “Forget the Fairness Doctrine,” Lloyd specifically instructs liberal activists to do the latter – use the “localism” requirement to harass conservative stations by filing complaints with the FCC.   The FCC would then assess these stations fines, with the money going to (very liberal) public broadcasting.

Or worse – the FCC would rescind these stations’ broadcast licenses.  In other words, shut them up by shutting them down.  Thus, as Lloyd says, no need for the mis-named “Fairness” Doctrine.

From Lloyd’s piece:

To be fair, even some progressives are confused about the Fairness Doctrine. A recent news story reported that the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC for short, has asked Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine—even as the same article reports on a speech to LULAC by ABC News correspondent John Quinones, who spoke of his work bringing to audiences a hard-earned perspective to the long-running immigration debate.

Quinones told the LULAC audience that he got his start because a San Antonio community organization threatened that if the stations didn’t hire more Latinos, the group would go to the FCC and challenge their licenses. “Thank God for them,” Quinones said. “I wouldn’t be here.”

Equal opportunity employment policies. Local engagement. License challenges. Nothing in there about the Fairness Doctrine.

“Community organizations” (run one would think by community organizers) threatening the licenses of stations with whom they do not agree politically.

Or making them pay hefty fines, which would be added to the public monies already being given to liberal public broadcasting.

The other part of our proposal that gets the dittoheads (i.e. Rush Limbaugh fans, meant here by Lloyd to more broadly refer to fans of all conservative talk) upset is our suggestion that the commercial radio station owners either play by the rules or pay. In other words, if they don’t want to be subject to local criticism of how they are meeting their license obligations, they should pay to support public broadcasters who will operate on behalf of the local community.

Lloyd’s instructions to Leftist activists are clear: use the FCC to pummel conservative talk radio.  With fines, or entirely out of existence.

And now Lloyd works for the FCC.



Prologue to a Farce

Communication and Democracy in America

Author: Mark Lloyd

Pub Date: 2006
Pages: 352 pages
Dimensions: 6 x 9 in.

The cure for an American media where market interests have usurped democratic participation

“A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both.”–James Madison, 1822

Mark Lloyd has crafted a complex and powerful assessment of the relationship between communication and democracy in the United States. In Prologue to a Farce, he argues that citizens’ political capabilities depend on broad public access to media technologies, but that the U.S. communications environment has become unfairly dominated by corporate interests.

Drawing on a wealth of historical sources, Lloyd demonstrates that despite the persistent hope that a new technology (from the telegraph to the Internet) will rise to serve the needs of the republic, none has solved the fundamental problems created by corporate domination. After examining failed alternatives to the strong publicly owned communications model, such as antitrust regulation, the public trustee rules of the Federal Communications Commission, and the underfunded public broadcasting service, Lloyd argues that we must re-create a modern version of the Founder’s communications environment, and offers concrete strategies aimed at empowering citizens.

“Lloyd . . . has both law and journalism credentials and experience, and here he offers a critical history of American telecommunications and media policy. His theme is corporate domination, repeated with each succeeding technology, and how it prevents the media from offering true public value. . . . Lloyd offers a lot of food for thought. Highly recommended.”–Choice

“Marshaling a wide range of sources, Lloyd’s historical analysis of the politics of communication in the United States is one of the best available.”–Journal of American History

“Mark Lloyd offers a wide-ranging chronicle of American communication policy from the founding of the republic through the present day. This work is unique among historical examinations of American communication policy in that it is less about reforming media than about reforming democracy by providing citizens with full access to important public information and thereby restoring public dialogue to its central position as intended by the nation’s founders.”–American Journalism

“Mark Lloyd has written arguably the finest introduction to American media policy history I have read. Featuring an original and compelling argument, Lloyd draws not only upon extensive research but on his many years of experience as a public interest advocate. Prologue to a Farce should be required reading for media students, teachers, practitioners and concerned citizens nationwide.”–Robert W. McChesney, author of The Problem of the Media

“A passionate, thoughtful account of our society’s failure to use communications media in ways that enlarge democracy. A book for citizens as well as scholars of media and politics.”–David Thorburn, professor of literature and comparative media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mark Lloyd is Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a professor of public policy at Georgetown University. He is both a communications lawyer and an award-winning broadcast journalist.


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Forget the Fairness Doctrine

By Mark Lloyd | July 24, 2007

The Center for American Progress late last month published a widely read report titled “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio.” That report demonstrated the failure of the supposed “free market” regulation of the U.S. radio industry to address the public-interest needs of listeners. Our analysis revealed that conservative talk radio dominates the airwaves of our country—to the detriment of informed public discourse and the First Amendment.

Only the most misinformed still believe that radio group owners such as Citadel Broadcasting Corp., which refuses to air popular progressive hosts like Ed Shultz, are only concerned about the bottom line. Few would agree that markets such as Philadelphia and Houston are well served with 100 percent conservative talk radio. But that doesn’t mean that the answer to this pervasive imbalance is the Fairness Doctrine.

In our report, we call for ownership rules that we think will create greater local diversity of programming, news, and commentary. And we call for more localism by putting teeth into the licensing rules. But we do not call for a return to the Fairness Doctrine.

Despite what we thought was fairly stark evidence of conservative bias, despite clear proposals to address that bias, Rush Limbaugh and other distortionists insisted that we were calling for a “return” of the Fairness Doctrine. But as we wrote, “simply reinstating the Fairness Doctrine will do little to address the gap between conservative and progressive talk unless the underlying elements of the public trustee doctrine are enforced, in particular, the requirements of local accountability and the reasonable airing of important matters.”

The power of right-wing talk radio and their echo chambers in the conservative blogosphere and Fox News was amply demonstrated by their simple “black or white, for or against” reaction to our report. They refused to discuss the underlying market control exercised by radio corporations eager to promote the conservative agenda. But it worked. Even the radio hosts of supposedly liberal public radio stations asked the authors of the report over and over, “Why are you calling for a return of the Fairness Doctrine?”

On one station, I responded that our report focused on media consolidation and localism, not the Fairness Doctrine. This sparked the host to ask, “Well, why aren’t you calling for a return of the Fairness Doctrine?”

Okay, so why aren’t we calling for a return of the Fairness Doctrine? As we state in the report, the Fairness Doctrine never by itself fostered coverage of important issues in a way that spoke to the diversity of interests in local communities across our country. In the late 1960’s, the supposed golden age of the Fairness Doctrine, the Kerner Commission reported the failure of mainstream media to report on minority communities. The same could be said at the time regarding the reporting of the views of women or poor people or young people protesting against the war in Vietnam.

Despite the distortions of the Nixon-era media haters, mainstream broadcast media in the late 1960s was middle-class, anti-communist, Protestant, male and white. If dittoheads like to think of this as a “liberal” bias, so be it, but the Fairness Doctrine didn’t do much to address it.

Here’s the history that matters. In the late 1960s the United Church of Christ successfully challenged the Federal Communications Commission over the lack of local input in FCC decisions. A moderate Republican judge, Warren Burger, whom Nixon later appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, sided with the church group. As a result of that ruling, a whole slew of rules were put in place to give local communities power in the licensing of broadcasters.

In their engagement in the licensing process many of those groups cited the responsibility of the broadcaster to “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of issues of public importance.” This responsibility, which many think of as the core of the Fairness Doctrine, was established in the 1920s. But with public engagement in the 1970s the Fairness Doctrine finally had some teeth.

All reports of its demise to the contrary, this core responsibility remains in the Communications Act today. Today, however, the act once again simply has no teeth.

How broadcast licensees meet their responsibility of fair discussion of important public issues has varied considerably over 80 years of federal regulation. But the image of eager federal bureaucrats peering over the shoulders of all of America’s radio talk show hosts with a stopwatch in hand is as absurd as it is impractical.

We trace the rise and influence of Rush and other conservative radio hosts to relaxed ownership rules and other pro-big business regulation that destroyed localism. The supposed “repeal” of the Fairness Doctrine did not create Rush Limbaugh, just as the supposedly onerous Fairness Doctrine did not destroy Joe Pyne in the 1960s or Father Charles Coughlin in the decades before Pyne.

To be fair, even some progressives are confused about the Fairness Doctrine. A recent news story reported that the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC for short, has asked Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine—even as the same article reports on a speech to LULAC by ABC News correspondent John Quinones, who spoke of his work bringing to audiences a hard-earned perspective to the long-running immigration debate.

Quinones told the LULAC audience that he got his start because a San Antonio community organization threatened that if the stations didn’t hire more Latinos, the group would go to the FCC and challenge their licenses. “Thank God for them,” Quinones said. “I wouldn’t be here.”

Equal opportunity employment policies. Local engagement. License challenges. Nothing in there about the Fairness Doctrine.

The other part of our proposal that gets the dittoheads upset is our suggestion that the commercial radio station owners either play by the rules or pay. In other words, if they don’t want to be subject to local criticism of how they are meeting their license obligations, they should pay to support public broadcasters who will operate on behalf of the local community. Commercial broadcasters want to be trustees of public property but without responsibility.

Unlike newspapers and movies and blogs and cable channels, the federal government gives commercial broadcasters a free license to use public property—the airwaves. There are still more people who want these licenses than the government is able to satisfy. In exchange for this very valuable and scarce license, and federal protection against “pirate” (unlicensed) radio operators, broadcasters are supposed to operate in the public interest.

That’s the deal. The broadcasters like the free license and the free protection, but they just don’t want the public involved in telling them whether they are actually serving the public interest. For 80 years the public interest has been defined as, you guessed it, providing a reasonable opportunity for the diverse expression of issues of local importance.

For over 25 years Henry Geller, a distinguished telecommunications attorney, has argued that broadcasters ignore the local public interest, that the whole “public trustee” idea is broken, and that instead of trying to make broadcasters play by the rules we should just make them pay a reasonable fee to support public broadcasting. But spectrum license fees should not be put in the federal treasury as they are now. Instead, they should be used to advance the public’s First Amendment interest in diverse speech at the local and national levels. We think Geller makes a strong argument.

We at the Center are delighted at the increased attention our report has brought to the obligations of broadcasters to provide local communities they are licensed to serve with opportunities for diverse expression of important issues. The status quo does not serve our democracy well. We want to create more ownership opportunities and more speech focused on local interests. We want either clear rules that promote these First Amendment values or a reasonable payment to the public for the use of its property.

All of these public policy objectives are there for Congress and the FCC to act upon within current law. There is no need to return to the Fairness Doctrine.

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Credit:  Protein Wisdom


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